In the end, it took a career shot by Lydia Ko to end Minjee Lee’s bold run at the LPGA Tour’s MediHeal Championship in San Francisco.
Ko, remarkably winless since 2016, broke her drought in almost the most stunning style imaginable, running a three-wood narrowly by the hole for a near albatross in a playoff against West Australian Lee for her 15th LPGA crown.
The New Zealander, who turned 21 earlier this week, watched as Lee made her own spectacular birdie on the par-five decider, then calmly knocked in her 70cm eagle try for her first win in 44 tournaments.
Normally stoic and composed, the delightful former world No.1 shed several tears, clearly overcome by the emotion of the moment having been the subject of much speculation from all quarters in the past year about her choice of clubs, caddies and coaches as she slid to No.18 in the world rankings.
“When that putt dropped, I was like, `Oh my God’,” Ko said.
“I actually thought my chip might go in the first time I played the 18th hole (in regulation), but a lot of emotions.
“My whole team and my family, they've worked really hard for this moment, so I'm happy that a few of them are here and we can celebrate together.”
Both Ko and Lee, also 21 and with three LPGA wins, were trying to end losing streaks that date to 2016. The Royal Fremantle member had gone 35 events without a victory and while Ko walked away with the win, Lee will leave San Francisco with her head high and safe in the knowledge her return to the winner’s circle isn’t far away, either.
It was Ko’s third win at Lake Merced Golf Club after victories in the 2014 and ’15 Swinging Skirts Classic, while Lee won the US Girls’ Championship on the same course in 2012.
Earlier, Lee had charged into the playoff by holing out from the bunker for birdie on the 17th hole, then dropping a 2m putt on the last to sign for an impressive 68 to reach 12 under.
Ko, who ceded the lead with three early bogeys, bounced back hard with an inward 33, including her own birdie putt to tie Lee after regulation.
“It's crazy … I was able to kind of put my game together on the back nine,” Ko said.
“I hit some really good 3-woods today and I said, ‘Hey, you've got to maybe try and copy the one on the other par-5’.
“I was able to hit a good shot again and I didn't really know how close it was going to be.
“But just to have a two-and-a-half foot putt to win the event is a pretty good feeling, but also nerve-wracking.”
Lee outdrove Ko by 22m and had a 4-iron into the green on the playoff hole.
But Ko, hitting first, nearly holed her 3-wood from 213m. Lee missed the green with her second shot, pitched 3m past the hole – no doubt feeling she needed a chip-in to tie – then made the birdie putt to keep the pressure on.
But it was all to no avail as the dual major champion kept the tears at bay long enough to finish the job in style for her fifth career playoff win in six LPGA Tour attempts.